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Editorial: McDaniel College's evolution painful for some, good for school's long-term future

Editorial: McDaniel College's evolution painful for some, good for school's long-term future
McDaniel College in Westminster is pictured Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Businesses are constantly being forced to evolve in order to keep with the times and demands of the customer. So too do institutes of higher learning, as is the case with McDaniel College in Westminster. Oftentimes, decisions that are made are not initially popular, even if they make sense from a financial perspective. Again, that seems to be the case at McDaniel.

On Saturday, the McDaniel College board of trustees voted to suspend five majors — art history, religious studies, French, German and music — as well as German, Latin and music minors. At the graduate level, enrollment will be suspended in the Master of Science program for deaf education.

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Students already enrolled in these programs, though minimal, will be able to complete them. The program suspensions affect less than 3 percent of the roughly 1,600 students enrolled at the college.

With the exception of German and Latin, courses will still be taught in these disciplines, which students can use to fulfill core education requirements, known as the McDaniel Plan. The idea is students will still experience a full range of academic experiences in the liberal arts, even if certain majors or minors are no longer available.

College officials were careful to note that the suspensions of these programs were not to achieve savings, as is the case in some other places of higher learning that may be struggling. Instead, McDaniel plans to reinvest the roughly $1 million into new and existing programs, evolving them to meet the demand of current and future students.

That’s an important distinction. Nationwide, small private colleges like McDaniel are struggling in light of demographic and financial realities, with some closing as a result of this turmoil. Unlike state colleges, they are not backed by tax dollars. Unlike elite private institutions, they may not have the deep applicant pools or financial resources from endowments and alumni. The college-age population is also expected to decline in coming decades, according to EducationNext, meaning more competition for students and their tuition dollars — the primary economic driver of these small schools.

McDaniel opting to reinvest those dollars is a sign that it is keeping an eye on the future and is taking proactive steps to evolve, rather than reacting too late.

Unfortunately, those actions do still have negative consequences for real people, a reality that cannot be denied.

While President Roger Casey said he hopes faculty will stay at the college to see through the graduation of students in the programs, unless there is some guarantee of job security after that, it’s unlikely professors will stay where they don’t feel like they are part of the long-term vision, especially if there is opportunity elsewhere. That’s unfortunate and a painful reality of these types of business-driven decisions. We are hopeful that affected faculty will be able to find opportunities where they can continue to be successful sharing their knowledge with young minds.

Loss of experienced faculty can also negatively affect students who are enrolled in these programs, who probably did so for myriad reasons, but a great professor could be a part of that decision. We feel for those students, who now may have a difficult choice to make of whether to continue at McDaniel or transfer elsewhere for the education they desire.

And while students may believe they did not have a voice in the process, the numbers don’t lie, and the demand for these suspended programs have been dwindling. The committee charged with reviewing data to make these decisions looked at not just enrollments, but also retention (including within a major), student yield rates and prospective information based on admissions data to see the entire picture and make recommendations.

Meanwhile, there is an increasing interest in other fields of study, particularly areas such as health sciences, business and those related to STEM — areas in which school officials plan to reinvest.

Change can be painful, but McDaniel administration and its board of trustees must make decisions that provide a favorable, long-term outlook for the college as a whole, even if the fallout from those decisions is painful in the short term for some students and faculty.

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